Ranking the Best Athlete Actors
Let's be honest—you, me and most of the modern world believe that, if given the opportunity, we could act. It probably wouldn't be an Oscar-worthy performance but almost certainly passable.
Of course, if you've actually ever had a video camera trained at your face and tried to say a few lines without sounding like a badly configured version of the power company's automated voice system, then you know that acting is never as easy as it looks.
It's because good actors make us forget that's what they're doing on camera; yet, it's the one career everyone believes he could dive into right after finishing the afternoon shift.
It's no shocker that when star athletes get in front of the camera in an effort to be an actor (for at least that moment), the results are often hard to watch. Like all of us, they get paid to do a job and that job is not acting.
So, when an athlete manages to turn in a solid, maybe even great, performance, it's typically memorable, because he or she beat even the most tepid expectations.
Honorable Mention: Peyton Manning
Aside from his hosting stint on Saturday Night Live and the billion or so commercials he's appeared in, future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning hasn't done much else in terms of acting. An NFL career is probably pretty time consuming.
That being said, he was so great on SNL—particularly in that epic United Way sketch—it seemed wrong to leave him off the list entirely. Who knows what life after football holds for Manning, but he's definitely got some potential as an actor.
20. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Hall of Fame basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has worked sporadically as an actor over the years. He’s guest starred as himself in a number of television shows and movies but has also done some character work.
Noteworthy Roles: Airplane!, BASEketball, Fletch, Diff’rent Strokes, 21 Jump Street, The Stnd, Slam Dunk Ernest, Martin
19. Stacy Kiebler
Stacy Kiebler started out her career as a model before getting into professional wrestling, which is where you could say she got her start in acting. She was one of the WCW’s Nitro Girls and later a WWE Diva.
Kiebler’s movie-star good looks and ridiculously killer body made for an easy transition into an acting career. Though she’s still looking for that breakout role, she has also gotten regular work in reality television.
Noteworthy Roles: How I Met Your Mother, Men at Work, Chuck, Blue Mountain State, Psych, The Comebacks, What About Brian, George Lopez
18. Terry Bradshaw
Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw was one of the biggest stars in the game as he led the Steelers to four Super Bowl championships in the '70s. He has remained in the spotlight ever since, working as a regular analyst and occasional actor.
Noteworthy Roles: Las Vegas, Relative Chaos, Failure to Launch, The Simpsons, 8 Simple Rules, Malcolm in the Middle, King of the Hills, Blossom, Cannonball Run, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.
17. Ray Allen
The Heat’s Ray Allen landed the lead role in Spike Lee’s He Got Game in 1998, two years after he was drafted No. 5 overall. He won praise for his portrayal of Jesus Shuttlesworth in the film—it was especially impressive given how completely inexperienced he was.
Allen hasn’t had much time to pursue the acting thing since then, but at the age of 38, it’s safe to say his career in the NBA is definitely winding down. If this happens to be his last season in the league, we might be seeing more of Ray Allen the actor soon enough.
Noteworthy Roles: He Got Game, Harvard Man
16. Fred Dryer
Fred Dryer played defensive end at San Diego State in the late '60s and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988. He was selected by the Giants No. 13 overall in the 1969 NFL draft and went on to play more than a decade in the league before forging a successful second career as an actor.
Noteworthy Roles: Hunter, Diagnosis Murder, Land’s End, Cheers, Cannonball Run II, Death Before Dishonor, The Return of Hunter
15. Rick Fox
Rick Fox actually has three NBA championship rings—he was a member of the three-peat Lakers team of the early 2000s—despite being a less than remarkable player during his decade-plus career in the league.
Fox’s second career as a sometimes actor and sometimes analyst has definitely been more noteworthy.
Noteworthy Roles: Oz, Holes, Love, Inc., One Tree Hill, Dirt, Melrose Place, Single Ladies, Mr. Box Office, The Glades, Hit the Floor, Franklin & Bash
14. Bob Uecker
Bob Uecker played six seasons as a catcher in Major League Baseball before moving on to a career as an announcer and actor. In addition to his roles in television and movies, Uecker starred in a series of Miller Lite commercials.
Noteworthy Roles: Major League, Mr. Belvedere, Fatal Instinct, Major League II, Major League: Back to the Minors
13. Fred Williamson
Fred Williamson played defensive back at Northwestern in the late '50s before going on to a seven-year career in the pros. Early in his acting career, he appeared alongside Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown in a number of movies.
Noteworthy Roles: Starsky & Hutch, From Dusk till Dawn, MASH, Black Caesar, Pushing Daisies, Knight Rider, The Inglorious Bastards, Star Trek
12. Lou Ferrigno
Before he embarked on what would become a very successful acting career, Lou Ferrigno was an internationally acclaimed bodybuilder who won two consecutive Mr. Universe titles, the first at the age of 21.
Noteworthy Roles: The Incredible Hulk, Night Court, The Incredible Hulk Returns, The King of Queens, Chuck, The Scorpion King: The Lost Throne, I Love You Man
11. O.J. Simpson
Before he was O.J. Simpson the accused (but not convicted) murderer and O.J. Simpson the accused and convicted stealer of his own stuff, he was O.J. Simpson the Hall of Fame running back in the NFL.
After retiring, The Juice went on to a pretty successful career as an actor, but his work in the business really dropped off a cliff in 1994. Imagine that.
Noteworthy Roles: The Naked Gun, The Towering Inferno, The Naked Gun 2 ½, The Naked Gun 33 1/3, Dragnet 1967, In the Heat of the Night
10. Gina Carano
Former MMA fighter Gina Carano was the most popular female face in the sport when she essentially retired in 2009. Though UFC president Dana White maintains she’s due for a comeback, at this point, it’s still just all talk.
Carano had a couple of minor parts before landing the starring role in Steve Soderbergh’s under-appreciated action flick, Haywire, in 2011. She was great in the film and, although it seemed like a breakout role at the time, Carano’s career has since stalled.
Noteworthy Roles: Fight Girls, Blood and Bone, Haywire, Fast & Furious 6, Almost Human, In the Blood
9. Bubba Smith
Bubba Smith played college football at Michigan State and was inducted into the College Hall of Fame in 1988. He played in the NFL for 10 years before moving on to a career in acting, in which he is best known for his role in the Police Academy franchise.
Noteworthy Roles: Police Academy, Stroker Ace, Police Academy 2, Half Nelson, Police Academy 3, Police Academy 4, Police Academy 5, Police Academy 6, Married with Children, Family Matters
8. Jason Lee
Before he became and actor and noted Scientologist, Jason Lee was a professional skateboarder. He got his start in the late '80s, and in 1995, he and Tony Hawk became the first two skaters to have a signature shoe with Airwalk—which actually used to be pretty cool shoes but are now sold at Payless.
Noteworthy Roles: My Name Is Earl, Mallrats, Dogma, Almost Famous, Vanilla Sky, The Incredibles, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Up All Night
7. Carl Weathers
Carl Weathers played linebacker at San Diego State in the late '60s before going on to a very brief career in the NFL and CFL. Weathers’ first roles came in '70s blaxploitation films, but his big break came when he was cast in Rocky II. He’s been working steadily ever since.
Noteworthy Roles: Arrested Development, Psych, The Six Million Dollar Man, Cannon, Starsky and Hutch, Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, Predator, Tour of Duty, Street Justice, In the Heat of the Night, The Shield
6. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson played college football at Miami and was actually a member of the Hurricanes championship team in 1991. He had a brief career in the CFL before transitioning into a career as a professional wrestler.
The Rock retired from the WWE, at least as a full-time performer, to focus on his acting career, which has been surprisingly successful. He returned to wrestling in 2011 and has since been juggling his WWE career with regular acting work.
Noteworthy Roles: G.I. Joe, Fast & Furious, The Scorpion King, The Rundown, Tooth Fairy, Family Guy, Get Smart, Reno 911: Miami, Doom, The Mummy Returns
5. Jim Brown
Former Browns running back Jim Brown is, without question, one of the greatest football players of all time. A member of both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame, he would also find great success in his second career as an actor.
Though he worked regularly in the business for almost 30 years, Brown, who is now 78, has only taken roles occasionally since 2000.
Noteworthy Roles: The Running Man, The Dirty Dozen, Any Given Sunday, Mars Attacks!, Soul Food, She Hate Me, He Got Game, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, A-Team, CHiPs, Knight Rider, T.J. Hooker
4. Ed Marinaro
Former NFL running back Ed Marinaro had a brief but ultimately disappointing career in the league back in the mid-'70s. He played college ball at Cornell and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1991.
Noteworthy Roles: Blue Mountain State, Monk, Third Watch, Days of Our Lives, Drop Dead Diva, Falcon Crest, Hill Street Blues, The Twilight Zone, Laverne & Shirley, The Gong Show Movie
3. Arnold Schwarzenegger
Actor-turned-governator Arnold Schwarzenegger was a five-time Mr. Universe in another lifetime and forged a very successful career as a bodybuilder.
Noteworthy Roles: The Terminator, Predator, Total Recall, The Expendables, Conan the Barbarian, Kindergarten Cop
2. Terry Crews
Terry Crews played college football at Western Michigan and had a few brief stints with NFL teams from 1991 to '96. He quickly rebounded from that disappointment by landing roles in a number of bad movies from 1999 on.
Crews worked regularly for years, but things really seemed to take off for him right around the time he landed that hilarious Old Spice commercial campaign. Since then his career has skyrocketed and is currently starring in the Emmy-winning Fox comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine with SNL alum Andy Samberg.
Noteworthy Roles: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, Arrested Development, Scary Movie 5, The Newsroom, Drunk History, American Dad!, Draft Day, Training Day, The Expendables 3, Bridesmaids, Idiocracy
1. Burt Reynolds
Burt Reynolds was one of the most successful actors of his generation, but acting was actually his backup plan. In the '50s, he attended Florida State on a football scholarship, after earning All-State and All-Southern honors as a high school fullback.
Unfortunately, Reynolds' dream of playing professional football would never come to pass. He was injured in the first game of his college career—an injury that would later be further aggravated in a car accident—and his game never recovered. Of course, it all worked out in the end.
Noteworthy Roles: Boogie Nights, Evening Shade, Deliverance, The Longest Yard, Smokey and the Bandit, Gunsmoke, Cannonball Run, Stroker Ace
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